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Causeway remodeling could start in 2002

Treasure Island received word Monday of $5.2-million the state would give the city for the reconstruction project.

By KATHY SAUNDERS

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 31, 2001


TREASURE ISLAND -- Construction on a new Causeway Bridge system should begin this time next year. Treasure Island received word Monday that the state wants to give the city $5.2-million to rebuild the two spans approaching the drawbridge.

"I'm elated for the community," said City Manager Chuck Coward, who heard Tuesday from the state's Transportation Outreach Program that the city is one of 38 selected for grant money.

"This sets the stage for our entire project," Coward said. "It really is a first step in having a very reasonable financial package for the bridge and it's a giant step."

The projects recommended for funding must be reviewed by the Legislature this spring and ultimately approved by Gov. Jeb Bush.

Although the state budget shortfall has put some projects in jeopardy, Coward said he is optimistic that the transportation grant will be awarded because it will create jobs.

"This program is considered an economic stimulus," he said.

One of the state's primary criteria for the grant is that projects begin within the same year the money is received. In anticipation of the grant, Coward got the go-ahead from commissioners earlier this month to begin the planning and designs for the two bridges.

The $5.2-million will be enough for the city to replace the east and west bridges within about a year. The west bridge is near the St. James Condominiums at the entrance to downtown. The east bridge is in St. Petersburg, just west of Park Street. Both approach spans are about 300 feet long.

"Our object is to go to bid on those in July 2002," Coward said. That's the earliest the money will be available.

It's important that the city meet the grant requirements for starting the project on time because Coward wants to ask for another $10-million from the program next year.

"If we can't meet that goal and go back to them next September, they'll tell us to go fly a kite," he said.

Consultants hired by the city to study the financial feasibility of a new bridge said Treasure Island needs to come up with about $15-million in grants to pay for a new, $50-million to $60-million structure.

"I'm going for $30-million," Coward said. Finding more grant money might allow the city more time between increases in toll bridge passes or "it could mean quite a bit of savings in bond interest rates," Coward said.

City commissioners are expected to raise the price of annual toll bridge passes from $20 to $30 this December. The city hopes to raise another $30-million by selling municipal bonds. It has about $8-million in its Causeway Bridge fund that also will go toward the new structure.

Consultants based their financial estimates on a new drawbridge that would have a clearance of 17- to 21- feet. But a final design recommendation is expected to come within the next nine months.

"By this time next year, you should know what that bridge will look like," Coward said.

The 64-year-old drawbridge has been deteriorating rapidly over the past five years. This year, it dropped from a rating of 12 out of 100 by state Department of Transportation inspectors to a 3.3. It had to be closed several nights last week for emergency repairs.

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